Course on Coping with Trauma Puts Sept. 11 Events in Perspective

Posted: June 24, 2002 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Elena Barbre

Helping students learn to recognize normal human reactions to trauma is the goal of Coping with Anxiety and Trauma: Adults’ and Children’s Reactions to Tragic Events, a special topics psychology course designed in response to the events of Sept. 11. The course, taught by psychology professor John Riskind, is part of the university’s series of Seminars and Special Topics in Community and World Affairs being offered this summer.

Riskind says a common theme he has noticed as students talk about their experiences during and after Sept. 11 is a “heightened sense of vulnerability.” Not only do they feel vulnerable to terrorism, he says, but they each have their own reasons for feeling vulnerable. “Some feel as if their value systems are in danger, and others feel exposed and fear stigma because they belong to a minority group.”

Among the tools Riskind gives students to handle these fears are cognitive therapy coping techniques that help them learn how to deal with natural reactions to trauma such as sleep problems, negative moods, and temporarily heightened anxiety. “They also must deal with catastrophizing tendencies,” he says. “These are the ‘what if’ tendencies, sparked when people hear a siren or a low-flying plane. People tend to compound the problem by developing avoidance techniques, such as avoiding flying. This course is designed to help them recognize and correct these tendencies and to deal with worry and negative thinking.”

Write to at